]]]]]]]]]]]]]       FREE SPEECH AND PROPERTY RIGHTS        [[[[[[[[[[[
                 By Lester S. Garrett [Freeman 94112GARR]

  For the latest indecent assault on the concept of property rights I
suggest you turn to Brock Meeks' column, "Industry Issues:  Free Speech
Is Where You Find It" in the May 15th issue of MicroTimes.
  Pouts Mr. Meeks:  "Activist groups seeking to gain signatures from
shopping mall patrons have been told that the activity is illegal.  The
shopping mall owners claim these groups are operating on private
property and have no rights to carry out such activities without their
approval."   As you might expect, groups involved in such activities
(petitioning, passing out leaflets, etc.) have brought suit, but have
generally lost.  This latest threat to the nation worries Mr. Meeks: 
"It is a quirky kind of guerrilla war that is taking a heavy toll on the
First Amendment rights of ordinary citizens.  . . .The guarantee of free
speech doesn't apply to malls", he frets.
  What, you may ask, does this have to do with computing and BBSing? 
Well, let's let Mr. Meeks tell you:  "The same type of action occurs on
various computer conferencing systems.  On CompuServe Information
Services (CIS) system your rights of free speech are terminated as soon
as you start to mention the benefits of a competing system.  The system
administrators of CIS see such activities as intrusions that they have a
right to bar.  After all, they say, CIS is private property."
Continuing to quote Mr. Meeks:  "To sharpen his point, the CIS spokesman
noted, 'There are plenty of free BBSs that people can use if they aren't
happy with CIS.'"
  Are you beginning to get the drift yet?  No?  Perhaps you're thinking
that what we have here is a champion of the little guy.  Guess again.
For Mr. Meeks is certainly no man of small visions.  His weltanschauung
takes in more than a CompuServe or two.  But let him speak for himself:
"It's not a great mental leap to imagine a BBS sysop pulling the same
type of action on an especially provocative user."  Light bulbs yet?
"That means that a sysop or system administrator can define the dos and
don'ts in ad hoc fashion.  . . .But what if those sysops also decide to
play the heavy hand?  Is there any protection? (No.)  . . .The procedure
is fairly straight forward:  you don't like the rules, take your cursor
elsewhere.  That seems acceptable, but why should I not be able to pay
my money [on a free BBS!?] and speak as I want?"  Mr. Meeks is not
  One searches this call to arms in vain for just what, exactly, Mr.
Meeks MEANS by freedom of speech.   Small oversight.  After all, when
one has the big picture in mind, one need not be bothered with the
little details.  Apparently, Mr. Meeks presumes we already know what he
means by free speech.  But, since I'm a stickler for details, here's a
rough paraphrase of what he has in mind:  Saying whatever you want
without restraint in any 'public forum.'  What's a 'public forum?' 
Whatever Mr. Meeks chooses to so designate.  Presumably, any place to
which he would like access.  (Mr. Meeks is a San Francisco-based
  It should come as no surprise that this Nader of the modems  has a
problem with the notion of private property:   "Much hinges on the
definition of the word 'private.'  There is no single acceptable
definition."   [Acceptable to whom?  Why, Mr. Meeks, of course.  I
wonder if he owns his own Bulletin Board.]
  Ok, so what's the problem here?  Were I to be generous, I would note
that Mr. Meeks has simply confused a right with its material
implementation.  The right to freedom of speech, or of the press, does
not obligate me to provide the soap box for your ideas.  But I'm not
feeling particularly generous.  Judge his motives for yourself.  He is
demanding access to the product of your mind, your work, your expense as
his natural right.  Why?  He didn't say.  After having put your sweat
into creating that which did not exist before, Mr. Meeks intends to tell
you what rules you will use for the product of your work.  And make no
mistake about it, force is what he has in mind; the force of
legislation:  ". . .A state has the power to offer free speech
protection in a shopping mall (or electronic system) if it chooses.  The
California legislature lost a big opportunity to assure these rights
when it dumped ACA-36 in the trash last year."
  I suspect that the author does have some amorphous notion of
individual property rights.  (Or is this just wishful thinking?)
Presumably, he would defend my right to evict John Doe were the latter
to march back and forth across my lawn handing out copies of whatever.
But once I open a candy store, John Doe and his leaflets take on a
mystical new standing.  And, heaven forbid, should I and 14 others
incorporate and open a mall, why then there is no longer any "single
acceptable definition" of private property.  At least not for those who
refuse to accept my terms of patronage.  They may want my product, but,
once I'm in business, they, not I, will determine what terms are
acceptable.  Business does not fare very well with Mr. Meeks.  ("Leave
your constitutional rights in the car when you go shopping.")  And the
concept of free trade is obviously beyond his grasp.
  Well, Mr. Meeks, the constitution did not intend to guarantee your
"free" speech out of my pocketbook.  While the notion of "you have it, I
want it, and the hell with your terms" receives little public support
when it comes to selling your TV set, apparently Mr. Meeks believes that
he's more likely to rally the troops when it comes to your Bulletin
Board.  I hope he's wrong.  I may object to the terms of a particular
BBS.  But I have no right to force its owner to change them so they are
more to my liking.  Because an inventor creates something which never
existed before, something which benefits all of mankind, does not
thereby make that invention public property.  No man has the right to
force another to give up one moment of his time.

  If freedom of speech and your right to private property (the right to
keep the product of your work), mean as much to you as they do to me, I
urge you to read his column and then take a few moments to send a letter
to Dennis Erokan, publisher and editor, MicroTimes, 5951 Canning Street,
Oakland, CA  94609.  And, while irrelevant, for the record I don't own a
Bulletin Board System.

-==-  San Francisco, CA  RBBS Net 8:914/205  Fido Net 1;125/5

                         *       *       *

Return to the ground floor of this tower
Return to the Main Courtyard
Return to Fort Freedom's home page